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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Hasegawa

Venezuela: the forgotten crisis

Updated: Feb 21

An exhibition curated for the Debt Justice UK.

On display from 8 - 16 Nov 2023 | Peckham Levels, London

A photo series that exposes the dramatic decline of a fossil fuel-based economic system. It brings attention to the urgent need for humanitarian aid in Venezuela, and invites people to come up with ideas for a new economic model based on sustainability, which includes renewable resources, and rejects the pumping of oil in the country.

This exhibition of three canvas prints features Artivist Katherine Hasegawa wearing a garment made of money. The dress was made using hundreds of Venezuelan banknotes that lost their entire value due to the recent and 4 years-long hyperinflation suffered in Venezuela, one of the longest periods of hyperinflation ever happened in the world.

This dress joined the ‘Hyperinflation exhibition’ at the Economy Museum of Stockholm in 2020-22. It has been on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum and has been worn in numerous catwalk shows at the University of Cambridge, and other venues, since 2019.


Apparent Wealth

In 2007, Venezuela paid off its debt with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on the back of its enormous oil resources - the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

In the mid 20th Century, the Venezuelan economy experienced steady growth that attracted immigrants from all around the world. In fact, it was well known as the nation with the highest living standards in Latin America. The currency was so strong that Venezuelans would fly to North America to buy goods - the prices of which looked so ridiculously low that buyers would say “It's so cheap, give me two!”.

However, the economic situation turned when oil prices collapsed during the 1980s, and again, in 2014, when petroleum prices dropped 59.2% in a little over 7 months.

An oil-based economy needs extremely careful management and is one that Venezuela’s socialist government perhaps did not fully understand. This is embodied in one of the most dramatic economic and social crises ever seen.


Only a decade after paying off the debt…

In 2017, Venezuela started experiencing what has been recorded as the worst hyperinflation on the American continent, and the longest in the world. Some blame the U.S. sanctions, others suggest the mismanagement of the incomes generated from oil, combined with high levels of government spending and corruption.

Venezuela’s four-year long hyperinflation was estimated to have reached 10 million percent in 2019. According to the Venezuelan Central Bank, hyperinflation ended at the beginning of 2022, yet the economic situation remains dire. Even today, Venezuela continues to be one of the countries with the highest inflation rate in the world, just after Zimbabwe.

Venezuela’s economic catastrophe resulted in a sudden increase in poverty, an unprecedented cost of living crisis, and massive financial insecurity for companies in the country.

Many Venezuelans were forced to leave the country, and currently more than 7.3 million have been displaced (with more leaving every day). This treacherous exodus is far from simple, and some are forced to take routes such as crossing the dangerous Darién jungle in Panama, where many have perished in search for a better life.

Forgotten and Polluted

As we head into the mid 2020s, the debt, economic and environmental crisis is worsening, even though the headline story of hyperinflation is passing. The World Bank has estimated Venezuela’s foreign debt to be at least US $160 billion in 2022.

Additionally, Venezuela has critical shortages of all types of products, in part because the government maintains this debt of billions of dollars with medicine importers, airlines and food importers, among others.

Venezuela's Petroleum industry (PDVSA) continues to experience under-investment and lack of infrastructure maintenance, leading it to jump from crisis to crisis. As a consequence, there have been frequent instances of crude oil spills and the release of hazardous gases through flaring. Additionally, liquids leaking from severely corroded facilities such as pipelines, and refineries are contributing to an environmental catastrophe in Venezuela - one of the world's most biodiverse countries.

The country risks being forgotten, and yet the problems it faces are not going away, and in many ways are getting worse for its people and the environment.

Venezuela is still in urgent need of aid with over 90% of the people living under the poverty line. Many organisations are helping. Please find those based in the UK, here.

What now?

In light of everything that has happened, the country is used to a high standard of living and has well developed infrastructure - aid and short term interventions will only help the most urgent and vulnerable. Going forward, Venezuela will need a new economic model to repay its debts and remove poverty for its population.

A Sustainable Plan for Venezuela

A new economic model based on sustainability is the only option - the people do not deserve returning to a nation whose wealth was founded on being a Petrostate.

Venezuela must get out of this crisis in sustainable ways. We must stop the oil pumping and stop the mining of natural resources in Venezuela. We need to collectively find new ways to bring money into Venezuela. Should you have ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to discuss.


Exhibition credits

Photographer: Zheko Georgiev

Editorial support: Tom Stacey

Printed by: Debt Justice, UK.

Curated by: Katherine Hasegawa

Hyperinflation Money-Dress credits

Designed and made by: Michelle Darlington and Katherine Hasegawa

Materials collaboration: Jamy Ayala

Year: 2019

Place: Cambridge, UK

Materials used: +2000 Venezuelan banknotes, staples, and recycled fabric.

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